New Report Reveals Flawed Drinking Water Protection Policies in Oklahoma related to Widespread Oil and Gas Activity

Washington, DC - Today Clean Water Action released Oklahoma Drinking Water at Risk: Exposing Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Flawed Drinking Water Protecting Policies, a report that exposes a major weakness in the way the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) protects sources of drinking water. The report found that, for decades, the OCC has relied in part on a flawed tool to protect underground sources of drinking water from oil and gas drilling activities. Oil and gas injection wells may have been improperly permitted under the Safe Drinking Water Act Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program. As a result Oklahomans' drinking water may be at risk of pollution in some cases.  

“It's disturbing that the OCC may have permitted oil and gas wells to inject directly into potential drinking water sources, and that the agency can't accurately point to where the drinking water is located,” said the lead author of the report, John Noël of Clean Water Action. “That's fundamental to the OCC’s job - it is the agency that is supposed to protect Oklahomans' drinking water from the impacts of oil and gas activities. Without proper information, the OCC cannot assure that the state’s many thousands of injection wells have all been permitted safely.”

"The full extent to which drinking water in Oklahoma is at risk from widespread oil and gas injection activity is unknown and needs to be investigated immediately. We can't allow existing or future sources of drinking water to be jeopardized. This report shows that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission must reevaluate and reform its Underground Injection Control Program."

The analysis in the report found that 18 oil and gas injection wells may have been permitted to inject into drinking water sources that should have been protected by the Safe Drinking Water Act. The report also found that thousands of drinking water supply wells appear to be drawing water from depths deemed not usable by the OCC. This brings into question the accuracy of the maps OCC is using and the agency's ability to appropriately protect drinking water from oil and gas injection activity.

“It’s no surprise that the Corporation Commission may be failing to protect our water resources from oil and gas injection wells,” said Earl Hatley, Grand Riverkeeper and Stop Fracking Payne County, OK. “The OCC has a long history of doing the oil and gas industry’s bidding at the expense of the public good.  Relying on ineffective methods to protect our precious water is directly in line with this agency’s common practice of doing little to rein in big polluters.”

Failure to protect potential drinking water sources from oil and gas injection wells is not unique to Oklahoma. In California, officials discovered thousands of injection wells that were improperly permitted, and Texas has failed to ever apply for or receive an aquifer exemption, the federal designation that would allow for legal injection into certain aquifers. The US Government Accountability Office has critiqued the UIC program, identifying that inadequate resources and lack of data has limited EPA’s ability to effectively protect drinking water sources from injection. Despite these failings, the Trump Administration’s proposed budget calls for a roughly 30% cut to EPA spending on the UIC program, in one area from $10.4 to $7.34 million, a move that will impact state UIC programs that receive federal funding.

“The proposed budget cuts to the UIC program would make it harder for states like Oklahoma to protect drinking water from the oil and gas industry,” added Noël. “EPA should be taking a more active role in helping states stop pollution from oil and gas production. But instead, the Trump budget calls for cutting this already underfunded, yet critically important program. Equally as disturbing is EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s advocacy for such draconian cuts while his home state deals with the fallout. This is more hard evidence that the Administrator’s career-long deference to the oil and gas industry will continue even as the country’s lead public health and environmental regulator.”  

“As a member of the Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, I am concerned about the water table here in northern Oklahoma. The OCC has created formula for disaster when it comes to water safety and I have seen the devastating impacts on our environment,” said Casey Camp-Horinek, Ponca Nation Councilwoman. “We have to have responsible, sound judgment in choosing how water, our precious commodity, is used. Our future generations depend on it. Water is life.”

 

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Since our founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking and people power to the table. We will protect clean water in the face of attacks from a polluter friendly Administration and Congress.

Michael Kelly
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